WHO: ‘air pollution affects 93% of all children’
According to a new study of the World Health Organization (WHO), 93% of children younger than 18 are breathing in air that is so polluted that it can cause serious health problems. WHO says this is “unforgivable”.
Children breath in twice or even three times more often than an adult and since they are smaller, they live more closely to the ground where pollution is worst. A new report of WHO, which will be presented at the World Conference about Air Pollution and Health this week in Geneva (Switzerland), shows how badly it affects children and youngsters.
All children under 18 are daily exposed to levels of particles (PM2.5) exceeding the WHO standards: 630 million children younger than five and 1,8 billion under 15.
Air pollution is not only a problem of rich countries. In poor countries, air pollution often is a consequence of the open fires or polluting fuels they use to cook, killing 7 million of people a year. Also the popular wood-burning stoves, often only used for the sake of cosiness, are making the quality of the air indoors as bad as outdoors.
Particles are minuscule parts of air pollution entering the lungs, which can lead to respiratory infections, chronic lung diseases, heart diseases and cancer. There are no safe limits and even the smallest exposure always shows a measurable harmful effect on human health.
Worse than suspected
In 2026, almost 600.000 children under the age of 15 died of an acute respiratory infection caused by air pollution indoors or outdoors. Air pollution kills one out of ten children younger than five.
Besides, it often affects children since it can cause premature birth, a low weight at birth or a retarded development of the brains, making children mentally and cognitively weaker or causing asthma, cancer, obesity, with a higher risk for chronic diseases like heart and cardiovascular diseases later in their lives.
“Air pollution affects our children’s health even more than we suspected”, says Maria Neira of the involved WHO department. “It also hinders the development of their brains.”
WHO emission standards
The WHO therefore calls upon all countries to put extra effort in the reduction of these risks by localizing schools and playgrounds far away from the most important sources of pollution and by, finally, respecting the WHO emission standards for particles.